Sunday, 13 January 2013

Australia looking awesome with air con!!!


As I write this, we are leaving the town of Bundaburg and heading to 1770 (the town, not the year). The past couple of days brought us the amazing experience of seeing a Loggerhead turtle lay her eggs on the beach and a fun tour of the Bundaburg Rum distillery... I'll fill you in on the details!

We drove the 4.5 hours from Brisbane to Bundaburg after getting the air conditioning fixed in the car we bought from my uncle. When discussing the purchase of his vehicle, I was told the AC wasn't working but figured that was fine - Brad and I had driven across Canada 14 yrs earlier and had been fine with it (extra-tanned arms were a benefit of this) but in arriving in Brisbane and driving around in this car without AC, we realised that doing this here was a different story to our previous experience! So, we go the AC fixed and hit the road!

Our reason for going to Bundaburg was to experience the turtle rookery. Between November and February, Loggerhead, Green and Flat-backed turtles return to the beach (called Mon Repos - yes, that's french!!!) near Bundaburg to lay their eggs. As a result, there is a large conservation effort in effect and part of that is education of the public. Nightly tours bring people onto the beach to observe turtles as they lay their eggs and, in some cases, to watch hatchlings as they emerge from the sand (this happens 12-8 weeks after the eggs have been laid) and head for the sea. Researchers and wardens lead groups of people out to the beach, in the dark, as turtles emerge from the water.

We were in the fifth group to be brought onto the beach and as we arrived, a loggerhead turtle was digging a nest, using her back legs and feet as shovels, scooping the sand away. We assembled in a semi-circle around behind her and a warden lit the area behind the turtle with a small light so we could see what she was doing. After about 10 minutes of digging, the turtle began to move forward, away from the nest she'd been digging as there were roots in the sand that would be in the way while she lay her eggs. After advancing, she successfully dug another nest - about 2 feet deep and moved over it to lay her eggs.

As she was laying her eggs, we were able to gather around her in a circle and take photographs. Apparently, the turtles can't see, hear or smell us around them which I thought was amazing. During this time, the volunteers measured her shell and checked her tags. It turned out that this girl was 38 years old and that this was her third set of eggs this season (they lay eggs two or three times/season) and that this year was the first year after five years that she had returned although she had been there before - turtles begin laying eggs at the age of 30 and usually return every year, returning to the same beach from which they were born. As hatchlings, they are imprinted with the magnetic information of the beach as they leave the nest and move to the ocean. When they are ready to lay their eggs, this information guides them back to the beach of their birth.

After laying her eggs, the turtle used her front flippers to fill in her nest. We witnessed the true power of these flippers when she filled up the nest - sand was flying everywhere! Once her nest was covered, our turtle began her trip back to the water. The turtles use the light of the ocean, coming from the surf and the waves to guide them on their way. This girl had a bit of a different path as she went, turning back along the beach halfway towards the water so the warden had to stand in front of her with a light to help guide her towards the water. The warden also brushed some of the sand from the turtle's shell and turned off the light so we could see the phosphorescence on her shell. It was really interesting to see the turtle as she came closer to the water and her final push as she waited for the water to help her into the ocean and out into the night.

Once she was gone, we had to create a new nest for the eggs further up the shore away from the water as a high tide could result in her nest being exposed and the eggs not surviving. The eggs were dug up while another nest was created and the eggs were carried front the old space to the new one. In total, 125 eggs were moved and in 8-12 weeks (dependent upon the temperature) the hatchlings will hatch and move to the sea under the cover of darkness. It is expected that the eggs laid at Mon Repos will mature into female turtles as the sand is darker here - so warmer. Eggs laid in lighter coloured sand result in male turtles...

Hana summed up the experience for us. She said that this experience - watching the turtle make her nest, lay her eggs and move on to the ocean was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The stars that night were amazing, so bright and clear, the weather was nice and warm, the ocean breeze moving over us... It as a great experience and the act of conservation, of moving the nest to assure the safety of the eggs and what is involved in that, is something that, I hope, stays with the kids as a respect for the natural world and the beauty to be found in that. This was a major reason for taking this opportunity of exchange - to see beyond what we would normally know and open ourselves to other opportunities to witness new things.

Now for something entirely different!

We decided to stay another night in Bundaburg and then to head to the town of 1770 to snorkel at Lady Musgrave Island at the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef so, as a result, we had the day in Bundaburg to chill and check things out, and take a tour... It turns out that Bundaburg is home to Bundaburg rum which is sold in Australia and New Zealand with sales in parts of Europe and in Alberta! Too funny... Can you guess where we toured? Of course - the distillery... The people leading the tour were thrilled to share that info with us when they heard we were from Alberta. Apparently, Alberta's import laws for alcohol differ from the rest of North America so they are able to sell there.

Anyway, we went through the tour which was informative, HOT (we were outside for much of it) and tasty (opportunity to have some tasters after the tour - for adults to taste some of the varieties created on site and for kids to have a couple of softies - Aussie lingo for pop/soft drinks). The molasses used in the creation of the rum comes from the process of turning the cane, grown in the area, into sugar (the molasses is the by-product of creating sugar from the cane). During the process, waste that is created in the distilling process is returned to the sugarcane farmers to use on their fields, etc, etc... The barrels are created from wood harvested in the Appalachian mountains and the barrels are massive and built on-site in the building in which they are to be filled with the rum. The barrels are simply the timber planks held together by copper pipe (no other devices (nuts, bolts, etc) are used)! Once aged for a specific length of time (2 years, I think), the rum is transferred to smaller barrels for further ageing and the rum is then bottled - as it is ordered - and shipped out.

As we left, Eoin did handstand #5 in front of the big Bundaburg bottle (part of his handstands across Australia in front of landmarks including Australia's "big" things) and later, handstand #6 in front of the Big Barrel, home to the shop and tourist centre selling Bunderburg softies. If you are interested in seeing his handstands, you can see them on our twitter feed @wolfesdownunder (you can also email us at

As we continue our holidays, we tick off another thing on our list of "things to do in Australia" - something the kids, Brad and I created before coming over. This was one both Hana and Eoin had listed - to swim/snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef. Tomorrow we head out to Lady Musgrave Island to snorkel along the most southern part of the reef. We will definitely update after that, then we head back to Brisbane and out to AustraliaZoo for the day before spending a few days with my uncle and aunt in Brisbane before heading for home in Melbourne, my orientation and the start of school...

Thanks to Hana and Eoin's friends for being in touch. It really makes them feel less homesick and excited to share their news! If you have been to Australia and have ideas for other things we should check out and/or add to our list, please let us know! We have 51 weekends left to fit it all in!

Love to all! Sheena, Brad, Hana and Eoin. xoxoxoxo.

BTW - I have to wait until we are back in Melbourne to include photos so will do that then.


  1. Very cool post Sheena! I enjoyed reading about the turtles.

  2. Yes that was quite wonderfully described, Sheena! The rest was fun to read too. I spent a lot of time in Western Australia when I was there. Esperance, Ningaloo Reef, Monkey Mia, Margaret River, everywhere up and down from there - you can't go wrong visiting any of those places!!

  3. Will write those down Keenan! Thanks for reading, guys!